Information for Adults

Effects of Domestic Abuse on Children

Children are often described as the ‘forgotten victims’ of domestic abuse. They are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse, but also by living in an environment where someone, usually their mother, is being repeatedly victimised.

Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves. Children can witness violence in the home in a number of different ways. They may see or hear the abuse or even be involved in the violence (e.g. a child may be in his mother’s arms when she is assaulted). They will also experience the aftermath and sense the tension in the build-up to the abuse.

How to Talk About Abuse With Your Children

Scottish Women’s Aid provide some advice for survivor’s with children. You can read more about this here. Some tips they give on how to approach discussing abuse with your children are:

1. Do talk to your children – and listen to them. Most children will appreciate an opportunity to acknowledge the abuse and to talk about what they are feeling.

2. Try to be honest about the situation, without frightening them, in an age appropriate manner. Reassure them that the abuse is not their fault and that they are not responsible for adult behaviour.

3. Explain to them that abuse is wrong and that it does not solve problems. Remember, your children will naturally trust you – try not to break that trust by directly lying to them.

4. Encourage your children to talk about their wishes and feelings. You could do this perhaps by doing an activity together, or encouraging them to draw or write about what is happening and how they feel about it. Your child’s teacher may be able to help you with this. Sometimes children will wait until they feel safe and are no longer in the violent environment before they start to talk about their feelings.

5. Tell them where to get more information. You could suggest that your children look at the Women’s Aid website for children and young people, The Hideout. This website has information, activities, a quiz and stories of children living with domestic abuse.

6. Teach them how to get emergency help. Show them how to dial 999 but make sure they are aware that they aren’t responsible for protecting you if you are being attacked.

7. Praise them.  Help to boost their self esteem by regularly giving them praise, attention and affection.

8. Ask for help. Demonstrate that asking for help is a good thing – do it yourself so your children can see there is nothing to be ashamed of. You may believe it is best for your children if you try to keep the family together in order to provide the security of a home and father. However, children will feel more secure and will be safer living with one parent in a stable environment than with two parents when the environment is unstable and abusive.

What to Do If a Child Reveals They Are Being Abused

NSPCC have a variety of ways to get advice or help if you are worried about the safety of your child. If your child opens up to you about being abused there are a number of things you can do to help:

  • listen carefully to what they’re saying
  • let them know they’ve done the right thing by telling you
  • tell them it’s not their fault
  • say you’ll take them seriously
  • don’t confront the alleged abuser
  • explain what you’ll do next
  • report what the child has told you as soon as possible.

In an emergency, you should always phone 999. You can also report the abuse to NSPCC: Call them on 0808 800 5000